Flashback 2023: Top 10 moments that defined Indian sport in a year of highs

Neeraj Chopra’s gold medal at the Worlds was the peak, but there were several other talking points

Notable achievements include Neeraj Chopra's historic javelin gold at the World Athletics Championships in Budapest (photo: JSW Sports)
Notable achievements include Neeraj Chopra's historic javelin gold at the World Athletics Championships in Budapest (photo: JSW Sports)

Gautam Bhattacharyya

The year 2023 was one which saw India take some giant strides in its pursuit to become a sporting superpower beyond cricket. Be it Neeraj Chopra emerging as the world champion in javelin, India crossing the century mark of medals for the first time at the Asian Games, or the duo of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty becoming the first Indian doubles badminton pair to be world no.1 — the list goes on. 

As for the pecking order, Chopra’s gold in Budapest may rank on top, but some of the other achievements were simply extraordinary. Talking about cricket, the sport they call a religion in this country, it was a case of so-near-yet-so-far when the juggernaut of the men in blue came to a grinding halt in the 50-over ICC World Cup final. Heartbreaking yes, but it should not detract from appreciating the way India cruised through the campaign to win 10 matches on the trot.  

Here’s our pick of the top 10 sporting achievements by India during the year:   

Neeraj Chopra  

Olympic champion Neeraj Chopra, who settled for silver at the Worlds in Oregon 2022, fulfilled his quest of the gold medal at the World Athletics Championships in Budapest 2023. He thus became the first Indian in the 19 editions of the championships to win gold, and joined the league of Czech legend Jan Jelezny, Chopra’s hero who held the Olympic and Worlds gold medals together. Pakistan’s Arshad Nadeem fell short of Chopra’s 88.17m effort by 35 cm to win silver.  

Chopra's countrymen Kishore Jena and D.P. Manu finished fifth and sixth respectively, to give India a historic achievement of three athletes in the top six of a Worlds. 

Parul Chaudhary in action
Parul Chaudhary in action

Record 107-medal show in Asian Games 

A record of 107 medals, that included 28 gold, 38 silver and 41 bronze saw India set a new benchmark at the Hangzhou Asian Games, the first time in Asian Games history that India’s medals tally crossed the three-figure mark. 

The gold medals won by Avinash Sable, Parul Chaudhary and Annu Rani were no lesser feats. Sable set an Asian Games record in the men’s 3000 m steeplechase, while Chaudhary triumphed in the women’s 5000 m race with one of the most remarkable finishes. India eclipsed past achievements in archery as well, with nine medals which included five golds, where it had won only 10 archery medals in the previous 18 editions of the Games. 

Shooters, led by Olympian Aishwarya Pratap Singh Tomar, won 22 medals, which included seven golds.  

Chirag-Satwik duo unstoppable 

Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty evoked comparisons with the ‘Indian express’ duo of Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi when they became the first Indian doubles pair in history to take the world no. 1 spot in the badminton rankings in October. Shetty and Rankireddy won three BWF titles and also made history by winning India’s first gold medal in badminton at the Asian Games as well as Asia Championships. 

(From left) Rajesh Ramesh, Muhammed Ajmal Variyathodi, Amoj Jacob, and Muhammed Anas Yahiya
(From left) Rajesh Ramesh, Muhammed Ajmal Variyathodi, Amoj Jacob, and Muhammed Anas Yahiya
Getty Images

India’s 4x400 relay team make history 

Ever fancied a Indian men’s relay team making the final at Worlds? In the 4x400m relay, Muhammed Anas Yahiya, Amoj Jacob, Muhammed Ajmal and Rajesh Ramesh finished second behind world record holders USA with an Asian record time of 2:59.05 in the heats and made the final for the first time in history. The Indian team left in its wake Great Britain (3rd, 2:59.42) and Jamaica (5th, 2:59.82) and made their mark in the final with a fifth-place finish. The same team went on to win gold at the Asian Games. 

Pragg’s right moves 

The Indian chess revolution is not a new phenomenon, but grandmaster Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa (18) became the toast of the nation as the youngest player to reach the FIDE World Cup final in August, and only the second Indian to do so after Vishwanathan Anand. 'Pragg' defeated world no. 2 Hikaru Nakamura and no. 3 Fabiano Caruana en route, but lost the final against four-time world champion and Norwegian grandmaster Magnus Carlsen, though he secured a spot in the Candidates 2024 tournament. 

Pragg's sister, 22-year-old Vaishali Rameshbabu, became the third female grandmaster from India — the pair thus becoming the first-ever grandmaster siblings from India. 

Rohit & Co’s dream run falls short 

Hosts India certainly looked one of the favourites for the ICC World Cup in October-November at home, and the way they eased their way to the final was to be seen to be believed. Midway through the campaign, there was talk that they could emulate Ricky Ponting’s Australia, who won the 2003 and 2007 World Cups without losing a single game.  

Master batter Virat Kohli scored his 50th ODI century during the semi-final against New Zealand, eclipsing his idol Sachin Tendulkar's record, and eventually emerged as the player of the tournament. However, the final before a nearly 100,000-strong crowd in Ahmedabad proved to be the team's Waterloo as India lost the game by six wickets, prolonging the country's decade-long wait for a major ICC title. 

India women's cricket captain Harmanpreet Kaur
India women's cricket captain Harmanpreet Kaur

Cricket returns to Olympics  

The 141st International Olympic Committee (IOC) session in Mumbai in October was only the second time India hosted the conclave, the first being in New Delhi back in 1983. The annual session brings its own importance, but this one would stand out for inducting Twenty20 cricket into the Olympic programme for the LA 2028 Games. Squash has also been confirmed for 2028, presenting an opportunity for India to excel further.

Aditi Swami, Ojas Deotale on target 

The World Archery 2023 in Berlin saw two young India archers, 17-year-old Aditi Swami and 21-year-old Ojas Pravin Deotale winning India’s first-ever women's and men’s individual gold medals at the world championships. Aditi also became the youngest archer to win individual gold at the senior world event. 

Jyothi Surekha Vennam, a seasoned pro, claimed the bronze medal in the same event. Aditi and Jyothi also combined with Parneet Kaur to win the gold medal in the women’s compound team event. 

Women’s cricket on song 

It was a heartening sight to see Harmanpreet Kaur and her girls dominate the sporting headlines in December when they scripted two back-to-back Test wins at home, first against England and then Australia. They routed England by 347 runs in their first Test match at home in nine years, and followed it up with an eight-wicket win over Alyssa Healy’s Australia. 

Earlier this year, the Women’s Premier League (WPL) also became a reality with five teams, while the auction for the second edition was held earlier this month. 

Indian football: A flicker of hope? 

The Indian football team, whipping boys of the fans, evoked a considerable amount of interest when they won two back-to-back international tournaments in June and July — the Intercontinental Cup in Bhubaneswar, followed by SAFF Championship, where they edged past Lebanon in the semi-final and Kuwait in the final. 

The positive results saw the Blue Tigers claw to the top-100 in the FIFA rankings after quite a while, though they failed to live up to expectations at the Asian Games with a ragtag combination and no preparation. A major challenge now awaits them in the Asian Cup finals in Doha next month.

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